Posts Tagged ‘Christian Doctrine’

C.S. Lewis wrote about religious diversity in several places throughout his work. There is debate over whether he was an exclusivist or inclusivist. One work in which he discusses the problem is The Last Battle, part of the Chronicles of Narnia. The scene is in Aslan’s country (heaven). In it, Emeth, who is not from Narnia, find himself in Aslan’s country, along with all of those who have believed in and been lead by Aslan (Jesus). Emeth has worshiped Tash (false God/satan/demon). This is how he describes his meeting with Aslan in Aslan’s Country.
Our next posts will be focusing on the problem of religious diversity and presenting our own views on how Christianity handles it. Some posts will respond to this scene, others will simply write about the problem. The scene is below (Emeth is speaking):

“So I went over much grass and many flowers and among all kinds of wholesome and delectable trees till lo! in a narrow place between two rocks there came to meet me a great Lion. The speed of him was like the ostrich, and his size as an elephant’s; his hair was like pure gold and the brightness of his eyes like gold that is liquid in the furnace. He was more terrible than the Flaming Mountain of Lagour, and in beauty he surpassed all that is in the world even as the rose in bloom surpasses the dust of the desert.Then I fell at his feet and thought, ‘Surely this is the hour of death, for the Lion (who is worthy of all honour) will know that I have served Tash all my days and not him. Nevertheless, it is better to see the Lion and die than to be Tisroc of the world and live and not to have seen him.’

“But the Glorious One bent down his golden head and touched my forehead with his tongue and said, ‘Son, thou art welcome.’

“But I said, ‘Alas Lord, I am no son of thine but the servant of Tash.’

“He answered, ‘Child, all the service thou hast done to Tash, I account as service done to me.’

“Then by reasons of my great desire for wisdom and understanding, I overcame my fear and questioned the Glorious One and said, ‘Lord, is it then true, as the Ape said, that thou and Tash are one?’

“The Lion growled so that the earth shook (but his wrath was not against me) and said, ‘It is false. Not because he and I are one, but because we are opposites, I take to me the services which thou hast done to him. For I and he are of such different kinds that no service which is vile can be done to me, and none which is not vile can be done to him. Therefore if any man swear by Tash and keep his oath for the oath’s sake, it is by me that he has truly sworn, though he know it not, and it is I who reward him. And if any man do a cruelty in my name, then, though he says the name Aslan, it is Tash whom he serves and by Tash his deed is accepted. Dost thou understand, Child?’

“I said, ‘Lord, though knowest how much I understand. But I said also (for the truth constrained me), Yet I have been seeking Tash all my days.’

“‘Beloved,’ said the Glorious One, ‘unless they desire had been for me thou wouldst not have sought so long and so truly. For all find what the truly seek.’

“Then he breathed upon me and took away the trembling from my limbs and caused me to stand upon my feet. And after that, he said not much, but that we should meet again, and ‘I must go further up and further in.’ Then he turned him about in a storm and flurry of gold and was gone suddenly.

“And since then, O Kings and Ladies, I have been wandering to find him and my happiness is so great that it even weakens me like a wound. And this is the marvel of marvels, that he called me Beloved, me who am but as a dog-”

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Greetings. My name is Lee (aka Disciple) and I’ll be representing the Catholic view on our new site, Christian Diversity. Our first topic is Original Sin. Key to understanding the Catholic doctrine on Original Sin is the teaching of St. Paul in his Epistle to the Romans (especially Chapter 5) in which he gives us a profound meditation on Original Sin and its effect on all of creation, and in which he also presents us with a view of Adam as the father from which all humankind is descended and by whose sin all were wounded; and Christ as the Second Adam Who came to give us new life and by Whose obedience all were redeemed.

A common objection to the doctrine on Original Sin is that no one should have to pay for the sins of another, for being condemned through no fault of one’s own. On the other hand, I have rarely heard anyone object to being redeemed by Christ through no effort of one’s own. The problem seems to be one of viewing Original Sin as punishment and as unjust punishment, at that. Let us realize that Original Sin is not so much an act as a state, the state which we inherit when we are born into the world as descendants of Adam. All of us are born into this state of Original Sin; all of us humans are born as infants; therefore, all human infants are born into this state of Original Sin. We are not talking here of personal sins of infants. No infant has the ability or opportunity to commit a personal sin of any kind. But all infants inherit human nature from their parents, who inherited it from their parents, and so on, all the way back to the beginning.

Now the following is a very imperfect analogy and it wouldn’t do to take it too far, but consider this. Suppose I have the misfortune to live near a site filled with harmful radiation. And suppose that this radiation is capable of damaging my genes and that it does so. Suppose that I marry a man who also lives in this neighborhood and that he is similarly damaged by the same radiation. Now suppose that we have children. Our offspring will be born with the same damage in their genes. That’s not so much fair or unfair but, rather, the way nature works.

In the case of Original Sin, human nature itself was changed, not merely Adam and Eve experiencing change on a personal level. Human nature itself was changed, and all humankind would be born ever after in that changed state. This is not fair or unfair but simply is, and also is just. But even then, while God’s Justice was at work, so was His Mercy. For already God was preparing to mend the rift between Himself and His creation, preparing to send His Son into the world. Preparing to give us greater gifts than those our father Adam had lost.

14 And the Lord God said to the serpent: Because thou hast done this thing, thou art cursed among all cattle, and the beasts of the earth: upon thy breast shalt thou go, and earth shalt thou eat all the days of thy life.

15 I will put enmities between thee and the woman, and thy seed and her seed: she shall crush thy head, and thou shalt lie in wait for her heel.

16 To the woman also he said: I will multiply thy sorrows, and thy conceptions: in sorrow shalt thou bring forth children, and thou shalt be under thy husband’s power, and he shall have dominion over thee.

17 And to Adam he said: Because thou hast hearkened to the voice of thy wife, and hast eaten of the tree, whereof I commanded thee that thou shouldst not eat, cursed is the earth in thy work; with labour and toil shalt thou eat thereof all the days of thy life.

18 Thorns and thistles shall it bring forth to thee; and thou eat the herbs of the earth.

19 In the sweat of thy face shalt thou eat bread till thou return to the earth, out of which thou wast taken: for dust thou art, and into dust thou shalt return.

20 And Adam called the name of his wife Eve: because she was the mother of all the living. 21 And the Lord God made for Adam and his wife, garments of skins, and clothed them.

(Genesis 3:14-24, Douay Rheims version.)

The doctrine of Original Sin is very challenging to our sensibilities. The idea that every human is “born sinful” seems so judgmental and negative that we shy away from it. Sure, we can agree that “Everyone makes mistakes”, but Christianity maintains that every human being is inherently sinful and separated from God.

But babies? Surely someone who has spent their life crying, sleeping and occasionally soiling the odd nappy (ok, more than occasionally) cannot be considered sinful? What can they possibly have done to merit such a charge?

Augustine of Hippo wrote his Confessions when he was in his 40s, and in it he reflected on the entirety of his life thus far – including his very earliest years. Of course, like any of us, he didn’t remember his time spent as a mewling babe, but he did use keen observation of other infants to draw some general assumptions about his own behaviour. He considers the actions of a baby through the understanding of an adult, and in doing so, he raises some profound challenges to the “innocence” of children.

“Nor was it good, even in that time, to strive to get by crying what, if it had been given me, would have been hurtful; or to be bitterly indignant at those who, because they were older… and wiser than I, would not indulge my capricious desires. Was it a good thing for me to try, by struggling as hard as I could, to harm them for not obeying me, even when it would have done me harm to have been obeyed?”

God is not concerned purely with our actions, but also with our intents, and the desires of our heart. The desires of an infant’s heart are selfish and often self-destructive, and is this entirely absolved by its lack of power to act? Watching a baby flailing his arms petulantly – but ineffectually – against his mother, Augustine wryly notes:

“…the infant’s innocence lies in the weakness of his body and not in the infant mind.”

Satirist and social critic P. J. O’Rourke, reflecting on his own experiences as a father, writes:

“When Saint Augustine was formulating his doctrine of Original Sin, all he had to do was look at people as they are originally. Originally, they’re children… But it’s wrong to use infantile as a pejorative… What children display is adultishness. Children are, for example, perfectly adultish in their self-absorption. Tiny tots look so wise, staring at their stuffed animals. You wonder what they’re thinking. Then they learn to talk. What they’re thinking is, My Beanie Baby!”

Of course we should treat children differently and make allowances for behaviour that we would find unbearable in an adult. Augustine makes exactly this point, in fact:

“In what ways, in that time, did I sin? Was it that I cried for the breast? If I should now so cry – not indeed for the breast, but for food suitable to my condition – I should be most justly laughed at and rebuked. What I did then deserved rebuke but, since I could not understand those who rebuked me, neither custom nor common sense permitted me to be rebuked. As we grow we root out and cast away from us such childish habits.

“…Yet we look leniently on such things, not because they are not faults… but because they will vanish as the years pass. For, although we allow for such things in an infant, the same things could not be tolerated patiently in an adult.”

But children aren’t actually little angels – they’re human.

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The preceding post is the property of Christian Diversity (apart from citations, which are the property of their respective owners) and should not be reproduced in part or in whole without the expressed consent of the author.

[Editor’s note: this post has been thoroughly reworked due to some invigorating discussion in the comment section. Check out the refined version here.]

Original Sin Defined

The writers of the Augsburg Confession (found in the Book of Concord) defined Original Sin as the belief that “…since the fall of Adam all human beings who are propagated according to nature are born with sin, that is, without fear of God… [we] teach that this disease or original fault is truly sin, which even now damns and brings eternal death to those who are not born again through baptism and the Holy Spirit” (BOC, 39).

One Objection

Ezekiel 18:20a states, “The soul who sins is the one who will die. The son will not share the guilt of the father, nor will the father share the guilt of the son.”

The word used for “soul” in this passage is the Hebrew word, nephesh. This passage leads to the objection that original sin cannot be true as I have outlined it, because it involves the son inheriting the guilt of the father.

The Question of the Soul: A Metaphysic of Original Sin

Three views of the soul are prevalent in Christianity. All of them presuppose metaphysical dualism. They are:

1) Our soul is constructed just as our physical body: Our soul is a half-and-half combination of the souls of our mother and father. One problem with this view is that it seems to treat the soul as a physical object. How exactly does a non-physical entity get combined half-and-half into a new non-physical entity. It certainly isn’t impossible, however. This view is quite popular.

2)  God specially creates each soul for each person when he/she is conceived/born/etc. Alternatively, God has already created every soul for everyone who will ever live, and puts them in a body when one is needed. The main problem with this view is that it would seem that if original sin is true (in the sense I have outlined it above), then God creates sinful souls for us.

3) Our soul is from Adam. There are no new souls for mankind, rather, we all share, in some sense, Adam’s soul.

I shall focus on 3) because it is the view I am forwarding. In Genesis 2:7, we are told that God breathed the breath (nephesh) of life into Adam. I contend that this (nephesh), which is in all humanity (and has been alternatively explained as our reason, soul, life, ethical awareness, etc.) is indeed our soul. Furthermore, because this nephesh is the same as that breathed into Adam, original sin is passed on, not through the inheritance simply of our parents’ genes, but through the fact that we share one and the same nephesh with Adam.

So how does this answer the objection from Ezekiel 18:20? Initially, one may argue it seems to purge the passage of all meaning. This is not the case, however. What Ezekiel is referring to is the sin of commission. That is, it refers to a sin which requires an action. Ezekiel is telling us that the actions of the father do not condemn the actions of the son. This does not, however, preclude the original sin, through which all are condemned equally.

Source:

The Book of Concord. Augsburg Fortress. 2000.

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The preceding post is the property of Christian Diversity (apart from citations, which are the property of their respective owners) and should not be reproduced in part or in whole without the expressed consent of the author.

The purpose of this site is outlined in our mission statement:

Christianity has been separated into divisions over denominational, cultural, and theological lines, yet the message of Christianity remains the same for all generations: Christ crucified for our sins. We at ‘Christian Diversity’ seek to demonstrate that while Christianity may be divided institutionally, we are of one mind spiritually. We affirm ‘Mere Christianity’, which is the belief that Christianity is ultimately this faith in Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior. We affirm the Three Ecumenical Creeds (The Apostles’, Nicene, and Athanasian Creeds).

The goal of ‘Christian Diversity’ is to discuss doctrinal differences on matters not essential to the faith. We understand that the goal of total ecumenism–that is, the unity of all churches–may be out of reach, but we strive to come to the understanding that all Christians are saved, and there are no divisions among us when it comes to Christ. Thus, while we may disagree on many of the issues we discuss, we continue to strive towards a better understanding of our fellow Christians and increase unity with them. This will serve to strengthen us as brothers and sisters in Christ.

Our motto comes from St. Paul, who writes in 1 Corinthians 1:10 I appeal to you, brothers, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you agree with one another so that there may be no divisions among you and that you may be perfectly united in mind and thought.